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Adam and Eve painting looted by Nazis returns after 80 years

Adam and Eve painting looted by Nazis

Courtesy of the Musée Rolin

V. M. Traverso - published on 02/12/24

“Adam and Eve” was part of the collection of Jacques Goudstikker, a Jewish art collector who fled the Netherlands during World War II.

During the Second World War the Nazis notoriously looted great works of arts around Europe, something that eventually led to a special US division tasked with protecting artworks from Nazi troops. 

Some 80 years since the end of World War II, some of these looted works are being discovered and returned to their rightful owners. This was the case with a 16th-century depiction of Adam and Eve recently returned to the Goudstikker family in the Netherlands. The painting, representing Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, was looted from the collection of Jewish art dealer Jacques Goudstikker during World War II. 

Adam and Eve painting looted by Nazis

As explained in a press release by New York art law firm Kaye Spiegler, whose attorneys facilitated the restitution of the painting, the looted artwork had recently been donated to the Rolin Museum in Autun, France. Upon inspecting the painting, experts at the Rolin Museum noticed a label on the back of the canvas that raised questions about its provenance. After extensive research, they realized that “Adam and Eve” was one of the 1,300 paintings looted from Jacques Goudstikker’s collection after he fled the Netherlands during World War II.

“I am deeply appreciative of the efforts that led to the recovery of this piece of our family’s history,” says Marei von Saher, the sole heir of Goudstikker who led a fierce restitution campaign that led to the restitution of 200 artworks by the Dutch government in 2006. “It is so gratifying to see justice achieved and have this painting returned to its rightful owners.”

As explained by Artnews, more than a thousand artworks looted from Goudstikker’s collection were taken by a high-ranking Nazi official named Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring and eventually became owned by the Dutch government, which in 2006 facilitated the restitution of 200 artworks to the Goudstikker family. 

The donors of “Adam and Eve,” attributed to the Dutch 16th-century artist Cornelis van Haarlem, had no idea about the painting’s history and collaborated with Rolin Museum to contact Ms. von Saher and organize the restitution of the artwork. 

“This latest restitution demonstrates the impressive impact that cooperation between museums and those seeking the return of looted artworks and antiquities can have in these matters,” said Amelia Keuning, co-counsel for Ms. von Saher, adding that the provenance research work by experts at Musée Rolin was essential in identifying it as part of Goudstikker’s collection. “It’s critical that museums across the globe adopt strict provenance protocols to aid in the continued search for remaining Nazi-looted artworks.”

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